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Microsoft, Intel Back Toshiba's HD-DVD Format

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  • Microsoft, Intel Back Toshiba's HD-DVD Format

    Toshiba Corp. has emerged as the winner in the battle over new DVD format, putting Sony Corp. on the sidelines.

    Technology giants Microsoft Corp. and Intel Corp. yesterday said they are putting their might behind Toshiba's high-definition DVD format, striking a blow to Sony's Blu-ray standard.

    That means that Microsoft and Intel will develop software and chips that will allow personal computers to play the next-generation DVDs from Toshiba — a bet that this will likely become the dominant technology.

    “It feeds into their strategy for getting the PC accepted as an entertainment device,” said Gerry Kaufhold, an analyst at In-Stat of Scottsdale, Ariz. “Being able to put an HD-DVD movie on a multimedia PC creates market interest in buying a new PC.”

    The announcement is almost a replay of a similar battle two decades ago when Sony's Betamax format lost out to its VHS rival as the video standard.

    Toshiba, with NEC Corp. and Sanyo Electric Co. Ltd., has been promoting the HD-DVD format, while Sony, along with Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. and Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. Ltd., maker of Panasonic products, had been pushing for Blu-ray.

    The next-generation DVD players offer better picture and audio quality and are expected to hit the market later this year in Japan, and possibly as early as Christmas in North America.

    Microsoft and Intel say they are backing the HD-DVD format because this technology is cheaper, and three major Chinese consumer electronics makers also support it.

    “The two [U.S. technology giants] of them are essentially speaking for the PC industry in saying this is the direction we want to go,” said Richard Doherty, director of research for Envisoneering Group of Seaford, N.Y.

    “It's a fantastic endorsement of the PC as an entertainment platform — not just as an office platform as we know it.”

    Microsoft decided to jump on the HD-DVD disc format because it also enables consumers to legally make a copy of the disc onto their hard drive — be it a personal computer or a consumer electronic device with a hard drive, said Jordi Ribas, a spokesman for Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft.

    “They can then transmit the content to any other device within the home and be able to enjoy the content in any room in their home,” Mr. Ribas added. “That is very important for our vision of the future of entertainment. This is a future capability.”

    The Blu-ray Disc Association, however, will not commit to allowing consumers to make legal copies of discs into the hard drives of PCs or any consumer electronic device, he said.

    “We want to make it safe and legal for consumers to enjoy their content throughout their home,” he said.

    Microsoft plans to incorporate software supporting Toshiba's DVD format in its next operating system, Windows Vista.

    Intel spokesman Bill Kirkos said the Santa Clara, Calif.-based company also prefers the HD-DVD format because it is more consumer-friendly, allowing people to play old discs on the HD-DVD players.

    “You wouldn't have to go out and buy a whole new DVD player,” Mr. Kirkos said. “So your old discs would not be obsolete.”

    Ted Schadler, an analyst with Forrester Research Inc., said he was surprised that Microsoft and Intel came out so strongly in favour of the HD-DVD format.

    “That makes it clear that Microsoft does not want the Blu-ray disc to win.”

    But Mr. Schadler predicts that some movie studios will continue to resist the new format because there has been a split of support for the rival DVD formats.

    “Consumers, if they are faced in the market with a choice, will wait until the dust settles,” he predicted.[/b][/quote]

  • #2

    Microsoft and the HD DVD format wars
    -Posted by John Carroll @ 12:15 pm

    Intel and Microsoft have officially come out of the "agnostic" camp and backed HD-DVD, one of two formats vying to become the standard for next-generation DVDs. The need for a new standard is apparent. People are buying High-Definition television sets, and as should be immediately obvious to anyone who has seen the same video displayed side by side in standard-definition and high-definition format, high-definition looks MUCH better. In fact, it's on par with the clarity of traditional film, and seems likely to become the format that unifies the world of TVs with the world of cinema-grade video.

    This is the battle between Betamax and VHS, but with better looking artillary. Betamax was technically better than VHS. The same can be said of Blu-Ray. Both formats read their data using a 405nm wavelength blue-violet laser. Blu-Ray, however, stores approximately 25GB of data on a single-layer disk, while HD-DVD stores 15GB (note: someone recently pointed out that Blu-Ray dual-layer discs don't currently exist, while HD-DVD dual-layer discs do, which makes HD-DVD, at 30GB on a dual-layer disc, the current size leader).

    The difference is due to technical details associated with the way Blu-Ray stores data. Blu-Ray has a tighter track pitch (think grooves on a vinyl record), which means more data can be stored on the same disc. To support this pitch, Blu-Ray disks require a thinner coating over the tracks (the clear plastic that protects the disc from scratches) in order to enable the blue laser to focus on that tighter track pitch.

    So, if Blu-Ray is better, why not choose the more technically-sophisticated option when given a choice? The reason is compatibility with existing hardware.

    HD-DVDs use the same coating thickness (0.6mm, versus 0.1mm for Blu-Ray) as existing DVDs, which means existing production facilities can be used to make them. That's why Blu-Ray discs are so much more expensive than HD-DVD discs.

    Granted, if Blu-Ray wins the day and people replace existing hardware with new Blu-Ray production facilities, costs will go down. Still, between here and there lies a mountain of money. It also hints as to why so many hardware companies back Blu-Ray. That mountain of money can make good eating for hungry hardware companies.

    Besides higher costs (at least initially), Blu-Ray also brings higher risks. Current DVD technology is well tested and well understood. Blu-Ray disc technology isn't.

    Consider why NASA doesn't launch space ships powered by the latest chips from Intel. NASA avoids cutting edge technology because they prefer well-tested and well-understood chips from a decade ago in devices that get blasted far beyond the reach of support technicians.

    The same can be said of movie studios. Granted, Blu-Ray has a healthy line-up of studio backers, but many of those backers are hedging their bets by backing BOTH formats. HD-DVD has more exclusive backers. The reason should be obvious: if you are going to blast tens of millions of high-definition DVDs into the marketplace, you want to be darn sure you aren't going to discover in a few years that there is a critical flaw in those discs that results in lots of returned media.

    To summarize, the battle between Blu-Ray and HD-DVD is the battle between "gee-whiz" and pragmatism. The battle between Betamax and VHS came down on the side of pragmatism. I'm betting something similar will happen in the battle between high-definition DVD formats, which is why I believe Microsoft chose the right horse to back.

    But I would say that, as I work for Microsoft.[/b][/quote]